Readers of the August 17, 1929 Johnson City Chronicle would find few clues to the enormous financial havoc about to wreck the country in just over two months – the stock market crash.
This five-day “Newspaper of Character” sold for three cents with an annual carrier subscription rate of $7.00. The city’s population was about 36,000. The front page contained national and international headlines with not a single local news item, those being relegated to other sections of the paper. One large section, “Weekly Farm Number,” showed the importance of farming in 1929 with these two strong messages: “Don’t Raise Products You Can’t Sell” and “Give the Land a Chance to Work For You – Rotate Crops.”
An article, “Fire Alarm Caused By Flying Sparks,” told of a fire at the American Cigar Box Company, located on Cherry Street adjacent to the railroad tracks. My grandfather, Earl B. Cox, worked there about this time. The Austin Springs social calendar listed people going on vacation, individuals receiving friends in their homes and folks “motoring” to nearby cities.
One article described the destruction of a local 75-gallon moonshine still on Chimney Top Mountain, impounded from someone locally referred to as “King of the Moonshiners.” The fall fashion report called for “a revival of the curved feminine figure with a slender waistline, fullness at and below the hip lines and long and voluminous skirts.”
The sports page displayed the names of baseball legends, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, under the heading, “Yanks Trounce Tigers for 12 to 2 Triumph.”Of local interest, the Troupers from Johnson City’s Soldiers Home and the Mountaineers from Bristol were scheduled to play baseball the next day at home.
Two local bus schedules were displayed. The ET&WC Motor Transportation Company conducted trips to Asheville, Cranberry, Elizabethton, Bristol, and Erwin. Conspicuously absent was Kingsport. The Seals Coach Line advertised excursions between Johnson City and Appalachia, with stops in between.
Surprisingly, only two comic strips were featured: “Bringing Up Father” (with my favorites, Jiggs and Maggie) and “Polly and Her Friends.” There were ads for three downtown movie theatres: the Criterion, the Majestic and the Liberty. The Deluxe Theatre (later renamed the Tennessee) showed no listing.
Kodak’s Hawkeye Camera sold for 98¢; the size of the developed black and white prints was a mere 2¼ by 3¼. A two-quart hot water bottle was also priced at 98¢. Many of us can recall filling those wonderful bags with water so hot we would nearly burn ourselves until they had lost sufficient heat to become quite comfortable in bed. One interesting classified ad read: “For Rent – Garage space for one automobile at 615 East Watauga Avenue, $5.00 per month.”
The financial page offered one revealing clue to the impending stock market crash in an article that read, “Bulls Advance Many Issues To Record Levels.” People were in a buying frenzy driving up stock prices to record highs and paying for them on margin. The crisis came to a climax when masses of people began selling their overpriced stocks, driving prices down and leaving investors with little money to pay their debts.
The relaxed reading of this August 15 newspaper would quickly be transformed into one of despair within just a few weeks. The country’s financial recovery would be painfully slow.